Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Trying to Understand Autism

Recently my 3 year old son was diagnosed with autism. We took him into a speech therapist after I finally convinced my wife and her family that his lack of speech at 3 was not normal and needed to be addressed. The speech therapist diagnosed his speech development at 11 months, and identified some common behaviors that were typical with autistic children.

At this point, my mind seemed to turn off. I was concerned for my son's chances of having autism, because my older brother has symptoms similar to autism. This brought about a lot of fear, anxiety, and almost hopelessness because I didn't know much about autism other than stories of severe cases.

The therapist reminded me that he couldn't diagnose autism, but gave us some options for speech development and recommended us to the University of Utah for his actual diagnosis. My wife cried as we went home, and I remained numb. We started that day to get our son into the system, which could (and does) take weeks to get to the end goal of getting help for him.

Since then we have met with a behavioral specialist, and I started doing some research online to understand autism. I checked out the National Autism Association website, which gave me a lot of good information.

Autism isn't genetic, though it does tend to run in families. The reason why they don't call it genetic is because researchers have yet to find the "autism gene" that would identify autistic characteristics. That, and the fact that autism diagnoses are more common, suggest that autism is environmentally triggered. The problem is, the trigger hasn't been found.

Some believe that autism is caused by immunizations due to a mercury-based preservatives, though it has yet to be proven. There are also a lot of similarities between mercury poisoning and autism, but again it hasn't been proven conclusively to be the link.

While speaking with the behavioral specialist, she noted that my son has a very mild form of autism that is effecting only his speech and interaction. This is because he has already started to write his own name (on his own, I might add), and has mastered many skills that other children his age are not commonly doing. His comprehension and problem-solving skills are impeccable, which really impressed the specialist.

So, now I no longer feel as afraid or concerned for my autistic son. He is scheduled for pre-school, where he will have his own teacher that will work only with him. They also figure that he will be fully main-streamed into the school system by the first or second grade. We are also going to work on his speech at home with a combination of pictures and American Sign Language, to help him better communicate his needs and wants.

And the most encouraging news so far: my son has started talking! He's speaking words more than once, and being more regular in his communication. While most parents with 3 year olds are complaining about the incessant questions and talking of their kids, my wife and I rejoice in every slurred word my son says more than just once. Our dream is to have our son rise to his full potential and overcome his disability.

I know that this isn't a normal post for my blog, but I want to reach out to any readers that have autistic children, or are concerned about their child's development. Autism covers a range of severity, and most autistic children tend to be exceptionally intelligent. They just have trouble communicating or interacting. If you have any questions or concerns regarding your child's development, get them tested as early as possible. The earlier they are tested and diagnosed, the better their chances are to halt and even reverse the symptoms.


Stacey said...

Using sign language will help tremendously. My daughter has a disability that has effected her speech to the extent that she may never speak. We have taught her to sign using Signing Time!, a fun and engaging DVD series geared toward children. It is full of music and fun animation. Signing Time! was created by, Rachel Coleman, a mom of deaf daughter. Visit the to learn more about it. Good Luck!

Harley Pig said...

The hardest--and most rewarding--thing was for me to not just hear my son but understanding what he was trying to tell me and working with him as he needed it. Not as I wanted to do it.

He frequently lets me know, in his own way, exactly what I can do to help him. The onus is on me to learn and understand.

a husband said...

Found your website through a blogsearch. The increase in autism in our society in recent years really is scary.

When you look at our history over the last couple centuries, the only things that have really changed are drugs, air quality, and our food. I feel like most of our health problems can be traced to these. People catch cancer now like they catch the flu, and we're all still "racing for the cure" instead of hunting down the cause.

Thanks for your post.

Jeremy Robb said...

Thanks everyone! This has really been an emotional roller coaster for me and my wife. Just when we think we get a handle on things, a little thing like listening to little 4-yr olds singing will set it off. Why? Because the thought of your son not being able to join in at that age just kills you.

I've heard great things about the Signing Time videos, and we are going to use them (ranked the highest as the most effective method of teaching, and locally produced).

But it does come down to what the causes are... Recently there was a case proven in Federal Court of a mercury-preserved vaccine causing autism in a child. My wife and I are looking back at the vaccines that my son has had to see if there are any that could be at risk.

Long story short - learn which vaccines you are getting, because they have non-mercury based vaccines that you can get and are just as effective. Particularly for the Flu.